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Breastfeeding – When the Most Natural Feeding Becomes Challenging
Breastfeeding a baby is the most natural way of feeding. As much as we would like to believe that formula milk is very close to mother’s milk and is quite good, the very fact that humans survived for so many thousands of years even before formula was found shows how effective breastfeeding was. If you are one of the lucky mothers for whom breastfeeding is going great, then you are blessed. However, there is another population of mothers who struggle to feed their babies. Some say that the baby is not latching on properly but with some guidance from breastfeeding counselors (in the western world) and grandmothers/experienced mothers (usually in the developing world) and over time, you can manage to make latching work. There is another category of mothers who want to breastfeed but struggle because they are not making enough milk. Every book or website you open will tell you that your body will make enough milk for your baby and that on-demand feeding helps your body understand how much is needed. Trust me, not everyone’s body is actually capable of producing enough milk, let alone excess to pump and store. I will not write about the benefits of breastfeeding because there is a lot of literature on it, but I thought it would help some if I could share my experience and also present some consolidated information about what you could do to increase milk production.
It is very painful to see your baby cry despite feeding for about an hour. Especially for new mothers, it’s not just the physical pain that one has to go through while starting to breastfeed, it’s also the agony of not being able to feed the hungry baby. One wishes all they could do was make enough milk for the baby to fill up and take a nap. I have been through that pain and can totally empathize. We had to start our little one on formula feeding in addition to breastfeeding right from day one because he was jaundiced and really needed the food to get out of his system. After we brought him home we realized after a few days that I just wasn’t enough and in the coming months I had to deal with the fact that he would be getting bottles too. I was very determined to make breastfeeding work for us and didn’t even think about ‘what if it doesn’t go well’? We didn’t buy a pump or even a bottle but decided to do so a day after we brought him home. With limited time to research best options, we chose a manual Philips pump that was okay to start with. I then took advice from lactation consultants and soon after that was on an information gathering spree so that I could improve milk production. During this phase, I learned that although you may not realize it, women who have some type of breast surgery, such as augmentation or reduction or even fibroids removed (for medical reasons), may have problems with supply. A term you may want to become familiar with is galactagogue. These are substances that help improve lactation in humans and animals. Based on my experience and information that I have gathered, I have put together the following information that may help you…
1. The pain experienced in the first days of feeding combined with an almost constantly hungry baby can be quite trying. Try not to be put off by it. One could use what are called nipple shields to ease the pain. These are usually made of silicone and also help with good fixation. It is also useful for women with small or inverted nipples. Once you and your baby start breastfeeding, stop using the nipple shield. You must continue the feeding to increase milk production. Remember that it is usually only 24 hours of not eating that stops milk production
2. Pump as often as possible. As I said before, the body learns from the baby how much milk is needed. Try to pump when you get a chance. I say this because, there might be times when you have to supplement the feeding by giving a bottle to your baby. In such cases, pump to empty your breast so that your body does not think that baby needs less milk. After the first weeks, the baby increases the interval between feedings, also pumps between meals. I was told that pumping between 2 and 4 is a good idea because the lactation-inducing hormone is at its peak at this time.
3. Try to get a hospital grade pump. Yes, it’s expensive and I know some people don’t like it. However, it actually has options to increase or decrease suction just like a baby does. If you can’t get one, that’s fine, use a mechanical pump.
4. Try to empty both breasts at each feeding.
5. Drink at least two liters of water a day, remember that a large part of breast milk is just water and unless you are hydrated you will not make enough.
6. Here are some galactagogues that I used and some that I chose not to use because they were very new to me:
a. Fenugreek seeds (called methi in Hindi and ‘vendhayam’ in Tamil) – I had no idea that these would increase milk production and was delighted to learn that. It’s a fairly common ingredient in Indian cooking, so I didn’t have to worry about picking up anything new while breastfeeding. Not going to spend money on the capsules available as supplements in stores, instead, I had a teaspoon of seeds three times a day.
b. Grains and legumes – especially oats and barley are said to help increase milk production. I would usually have porridge (with milk added) in the morning and also cook barley in water until done and drink the water at least one glass a day. Mung dal gruel is also said to help. Pressure cook mung dal, add milk and jaggery, boil and drink
c. Almonds, cashews and macadamia nuts are said to help milk production
d. Garlic – burn some garlic cloves in the flame or fry crushed garlic cloves in ghee. Add this to warm milk and consume at least twice a day. They say garlic might thin your blood, so don’t use with anticoagulants.
e. Turmeric has anti-inflammatory properties and helps prevent a breast infection that could throw off some breastfeeding. If you have an Indian diet, you probably already get enough of this wonderful spice, if not about half a teaspoon a day is advisable.
f. Green papaya is said to be taken as a galactagogue throughout Asia. I haven’t had a chance to try this myself
g. Spirulina, nutritional yeast and brewer’s, ginger beer are some others recommended by some but I have not been able to try these.
h. Spices like dill, caraway, fennel seeds are also said to help milk production. I used to chew some fennel seeds every day.
me Green leafy vegetables, carrots, beets and yams are also said to be effective. Also, dudhi (aka sorakai in Tamil or lauki in Hindi) is said to be effective in increasing milk production. Having plenty of fruits and vegetables will give you the energy and nutrition to make milk.
j. Stinging nettle (also called ‘kuppameni’ in Tamil) is another herb that I would say people usually recommend. I bought dried nettle and used to have it as a tea. Just put a full spoon in a cup and add boiling water, cover with a lid and let it soak for five minutes, drink. It is also rich in iron and an excellent herb even if not lactating
k. Chaste berry, borage leaf, comfrey leaf, red raspberry leaf, goat rue, hops, alfalfa are some herbs that I haven’t quite used as I’ve never had them before. The general recommendation is that while pregnant or breastfeeding, try to avoid new ingredients as you may not know how your body will react. However, I believe these herbs are more common in Europe and there are some women who seem to be reporting success with these online.
l. Herbal teas – there are a number of ready-made preparations available in the market. These are usually tea bags containing a number of herbs usually named on the label. I used Yogi’s tea and it was meant to increase breast milk production. It contained blessed thistle in addition to nettle. Generally they say that the concentration of herbs in teas is very small for them to cause any side effects, but it depends on the individual. I’d rather be safe than sorry
m. In Ayurveda, shatavari and ashwagandha are two herbs suggested for breastfeeding besides some other ingredients like almonds etc. I had a capsule called Lactare, available from pharmacies in India, one capsule a day. Doctors in Hindi suggest that it is most effective if started soon after birth, but I only started taking it later. Shatavari appears to be available as a supplement in health food stores as well. I had a chance to have shatavari, available in powder form from ayurvedic shops and even online from the day my second baby was born and I saw it to be very effective. I think taking the herb in powder form was more effective than the capsule.
n. I also used to take what was called Mother’s Horlicks, specially prepared for mothers and lactating mothers. Reason I took it was because it has malted barley in addition to fortified vitamins and malted barley also, I’ve read, helps milk production.
oh Good quality fat like butter and ghee is also said to be important for lactating mothers. Some recommend coconut oil and coconut milk.
7. A protein-rich diet is important for making milk. Increase the amount of eggs, meat if you eat them, legumes, beans and legumes. Have plenty of complex carbohydrates such as whole grains rather than simple carbohydrates. The former include brown rice, whole wheat, etc. Having a well-balanced diet is important at any time, especially during lactation.
8. Get some rest – if you’re lucky enough to get some help, try to take it so you can get some rest. You have to accept the fact that some feeds will be bottle feeding and you could have your partner or grandparents give the bottle while you rest a bit. A well-nourished and rested mother produces more milk
I tried to list as many options as possible. You may have seen that I tried not just one, but many of these in parallel. I was also given a prescription for domperidone but chose not to use it for fear of side effects. Conversely most of the other herbal galactagogues mentioned were known to me and I chose to use them. It may take a while before you accept that your baby is not exclusively breastfed, but that’s okay. Try your best to feed as much as possible and when you do very little, just think of it as preventive medicine because even the little milk has antibodies that keep your son healthy and strong. Try to take advantage of the growth spurts, because that’s their way of telling your body to make more milk. It can be quite difficult, but at least pump more during these times. Since a typical Indian diet usually includes most of the condiments, grains, spices and vegetables mentioned, I have embraced those. If you have chosen to try other herbs mentioned, try one new herb at a time so you can see for sure if you suffer from any side effects. Give yourself credit for trying to feed your baby and I wish you the best!
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